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A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens May 13, 2007 at the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio,

Dedicated to my mother Lorene K. Ahrens who was born on Mother's Day, 5/13/28, to Caroline Ella Zeiger on her baptismal day and to the three 2007 Schumacher Award winners, Alysha Gardner, Amanda Roden, and Kayla Burwell and always to the glory of God!
Who Will Carry the Torch?
Esther 4: 5-16, John 14:23-29

On this Mother's Day 2007, four young women have inspired us and filled our hearts with hope.

Kayla Burwell, age 17, from Hilliard Ohio has overcome many family challenges, including the death of her mother when she was 12, and yet has managed to shine the light of Christ to her family as a positive influence for her peers and teachers in Hilliard Darby High School.

Alysha Gardner, age 17, from Tarlton, Ohio and Amanda Clearcreek High School has demonstrated loving care for her brother Albert. As Albert=s biggest fan, she shows every day what it Jesus means when he says, "Love one another as I have loved you."

Amanda Roden, age 15, has literally taken GREAT STRIDES in walking for and with her brother Nick ever since he was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at age 6. CF is a life-threatening genetic disease that affects the lungs and digressive systems of approximately 30,000 children and adults in the US. Amanda has loved her brother by taking community leadership in raising more than $150,000 in Delaware, Ohio. She is in 9th grade at Buckeye Valley High School.

Finally, there is our littlest inspiration - Caroline Ella Zeiger, five months old, the first born child of Matt and Ellie Zeiger. She is so beautiful. And she has quickly captured our hearts this Mother=s Day. From the look in her eyes, I can tell you adores all the children. They were captivated by her. Today it is a great honor and delight to step back in the chancel with her mother and father who were married in this same spot two years ago and hold on to beautiful blessing which is their daughter!

It is God working through teenage girls in scriptural history that saved the faith of Judaism and Christianity! We might not be here today, was it not for teenage young women of faith! Their names are Miriam, Mary, and Esther. They saved their people and our faith traditions through their powerful witnesses of faith.

Miriam is a young girl when, after her mother places the newborn Moses in a basket and floats him to Pharaoh=s daughter, she goes to the princess and offers to baby sit the newborn. (Just like a big sister to baby sit her little sibs. Right Amanda, Kayla and Alysha?!) Miriam then offers Pharaoh=s daughter (her own mother) to serve as Moses= wet nurse. Throughout his childhood, Miriam keeps a watchful eye on her baby brother as he is raised in the shadow of Pharaoh=s power. She knows in her heart that he is the hope of his people cast in slavery. Having killed an Egyptian guard who was beating a Hebrew slave, Moses flees for his life. Later, he returns, in the power of God, to free the Hebrew people from slavery. Safely on the east bank of the Sea of Reeds, it is Miriam who leads her people in a dance of freedom - a dance she had been practicing since childhood!

Mary of Nazareth was 14 when God chose her to bear God=s son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Faced with judgment and scorn, she makes her way to cousin Elizabeth=s home and passes through the months of pregnancy away from Nazareth. Then along with her fiancee, Joseph, she travels the stony roads over mountainous desert terrain to Bethlehem where she gives birth to Jesus. Warned in a dream, she flees with Joseph into Egypt barely avoiding the slaughter of the innocents and raising her baby away from family and friends, in a strange and foreign land. She watches her miraculously birthed baby grow to be the miracle worker who saves the world from sin. At 47 years old, she watches as he is executed by crucifixion. Then after Jesus rises from the dead, Mary helps found the sect of Judaism we now claim as our own faith. She is not only the mother of Jesus, but the matriarch of Christianity!

In today"s scripture, a beautiful teenage girl named Esther becomes Queen of Persia and saved her Jewish people from extermination. Esther became Queen of Persia in 479 BC. King Ahasuerus did not know Esther was a Jew when he asked her to marry him. He never asked. She never told him. (This is the scriptural version of “Don’t Ask…Don’t tell). And her Jewish heritage didn't seem to matter until the arrogant and evil Haman uses his power "behind the throne" to bring an edict of death for all Jews. Like an early day Hitler, Haman decides the Jews should be wiped out.

Esther's Uncle Mordecai, who has raised Esther as his daughter since her parents died, steps forward to appeal for help from his adopted daughter. He says, "Don't think just because you live in the king's house you will be one of the Jews to get out of this alive. If you persist in being silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive from the Jews for some place else, but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows, Maybe you were made to be Queen for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13-14).

Mordecai is asking - in this moment that God has given you to lead, will you make that choice? Esther, will you be the leader God needs= NOW? Or will you shirk your responsibility and remain silent? "Who know?" says Mordecai. The implication to this pregnant question is - GOD KNOWS! He points out that if Esther chooses not to lead, God will find another to do the job! This paradoxical truth both stings and reassures. You can walk away from leadership. But, God won=t walk away from the salvation of the Jews. God will find another answer! God will find another way to save God=s people!

Esther chooses to lead in her own way. She prays and asks for God's guidance and deliverance. She devises a plan which includes dinner parties (not one but two!) and exposing Haman's wrongdoings. Through the plan, Haman is hung, Mordecai is elevated to a trusted leader, and the Jews are saved. In the following generation, Esther's son Darius becomes the King who oversees the Jews returning from exile to Jerusalem and funds the rebuilding of David's city and Solomon's Temple. So in the end Esther not only saves her people from extermination, she is the heir of their return from exile to their homeland.

In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus offers yet another pathway of leadership for his disciples. He teaches his disciples at a critical tipping point in their life together that God will send them the Holy Spirit who will teach them everything they need to know to live the faith and carry it forward! Whatever they don’t get about his teaching, through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, they will be led to discover and understand the “ Jesus Way.”

You see, in every generation, God finds those who will be torchbearers of Hope, Love and Justice! On Thursday night at Dorothy Cromartie=s funeral, I told the story of Dorothy carrying the Olympic torch as it passed through Columbus in 1996. She was a spry young girl of 84 at the time. Who can forget the pictures of Dorothy running with the Olympic torch on its way from Athens to Atlanta? (All roads lead through Columbus, Ohio).

We have been inspired by four young women today (one who is very young, indeed!). We have heard the Biblical stories of three other teenage girls turned into saviors of their people and our faith.

I leave you with this question today: Who will carry the torch?

Who will carry the light of God into the future? Who will step up in our church at a time such as this to carry the light of God forward in faith? I am not asking you to save the entire nation or the church . . . I am only asking you of all generations - who will carry the torch? We stand on the tipping point of so many great things in this church. We need to finish what we have started with our long range plan. We need to finish what we have started with the Byers Lot Project. We need to find new leadership in our educational ministries. We need strong leadership for our hands-on mission projects. We need those of you who have been faithful friends to join us as faithful members.

No matter what age you are - you need to feel the power of God's Holy Spirit alive in your life and in this community of faith inspiring you to step forward to carry the torch.

In the words of Mordecai to Queen Esther, "If not now, when? If not you, who?" Amen.

Copyright 2007, The First Congregational Church